by Maisie Smith on November 27, 2016
It was 2 a.m. on a random Tuesday in September. I was wrapped in a blanket on the sofa watching The Twelve Men of Christmas, eating olives straight from the can and wondering how it had all come to this.
I should be writing. I should be creating. I looked over at my laptop and shrugged. All the ideas that used to swarm around in my brain like bees had come to a standstill.
So why bother?
• • •
There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s remake of Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter tells Alice about the Jabberwocky and explains that she must be the one to kill it. Alice says she cannot do the thing she is meant to do. She is scared. She is frustrated with Wonderland the second time around. She just wants to go home.
ALICE: I’m not slaying anything. I don’t slay. So put it out of your mind.
[The Mad Hatter sets tiny Alice down on a log and turns to walk away]
ALICE: Wait, you can’t leave me here.
MAD HATTER: You don’t slay.
ALICE: I couldn’t if I wanted to
[The Mad Hatter leans in close]
MAD HATTER: You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more… muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.
ALICE: My muchness?
MAD HATTER [pointing to Alice’s heart]: In there. Something is missing.
Alice eventually goes on to slay the Jabberwocky and saves Wonderland.
• • •
I think about the Mad Hatter a lot, probably more than any self-respecting 42-year-old should. Why?
Because I’ve lost my muchness.
It’s not like I had it one day and the next… poof… it was gone. It was a slow dissolve. Decisions were made based on shoulds rather than wants. Comparisonitis reared its ugly head and I gave it a seat at the head table.
Instead of writing about what inspired me, I stopped writing. Except for client work, words refused to flow. I read other people’s words and tricked myself into thinking that was enough. I began embracing the clockwork patterns of life. Wake up. Grab a cup of coffee (a splash of half-and-half, a dash of sugar). Write out the daily To-Do list on a hot pink sticky note. Crank away at the computer until restlessness ensued. Take a nap or scroll through Facebook.
Day after day, the same damn thing.
It was safe. Strangely comforting. Head-down-blinders-on-do-the-work mode.
When I closed my eyes and imagined how I wanted to be in the world, it was not a woman sitting at a desk all day figuring out clever things to write. It was not a woman scrolling through social media and inhaling content like an insatiable black hole.
How did I become this person whose ass had molded into the shape of her office chair? The woman who hunched over a desk for 10-12 hours a day and yet only crossed one or two things off her Get Shit Done list? I couldn’t even take the time to make myself a healthy salad for lunch, instead choosing to eat a giant box of Cheez-its while fussing over grammar and syntax.
I was purposeless. As a creative person, you know how crucial a meaningful life can be. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps you going. When your sense of purpose is no longer clear, the world loses is luster.
I had nothing to say. And nothing to say about the fact that I had nothing to say. Shit.
Here’s the thing about losing your muchness… you know something is wrong, but you can’t put it into words. You blame yourself. You blame your clients. You blame the people you love. You start yelling about spoons left in the sink.
And then you sit and wallow in your non-muchness until it becomes a part of you, like an arm or a toenail.
It’s a pretty standard story, really. Girl falls into a pit of despair she didn’t know existed. Hopefully learns to claw her way out.
• • •
As a proficient digger, I can tell you that I’m not all the way out of the pit yet. What I can say is that you must go back… way back… to the “thing” that fills you with bliss. Therein lies the key to your muchness.
I used to think that “thing” was writing.
“I could write all day.” LIE
“Writing is where I feel the most authentic.” LIE
“I can’t go a day without writing.” LIE
Writing is merely the method I use to create. Like an artist chooses a medium of acrylics or clay or thread, I choose words. But the actual process of writing is not what brings me joy. It’s what the words weave together that brings me to my knees.
So what did I do?
I wrote like a motherfucker, even when the words were excruciatingly slow to manifest. Some days, it was all I could do to muster writing the same phrase over and over again to reach my 750-word quota:
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
I sat in the uncomfortable pause and thought about my life, my childhood, my pivotal moments. And then I wrote about it.
In that process I realized what my muchness was and what is has always been:
Stories. Telling stories. Reading stories. Sharing stories.
They were there all along, hidden under layers of copywriting and content creation and hashtags. They were there when I left my 10-year career in advertising to start my own writing business. They were there every time I had to make a hard decision, a lousy decision or a life-changing decision.
Stories were the singular thread that held all the things together.
And I had forgotten how to tell them.
• • •
I believe it is your oomph. Your light. The spark that makes you stand out. Your audacity. Your greatness.
Your muchness can be whatever you need it to be.
My muchness is telling stories.
I’m not here to tell you how to avoid falling into the deep ruts where your muchness goes AWOL. It happens. Life happens. You are going to trip and fall face-down in the muck.
I landed in this middling place where nothing good and nothing bad happens. Call it complacency. Call it boredom. My muchness… my strong opinions, my sense of adventure, my desire to serve others, my recognition of souls in need of a reboot, my talent for unearthing stories… faded.
Still there, just invisible.
What I am here to tell you is that when your muchness packs its bags and takes the midnight train to anywhere, you are not beaten. You are simply in a holding pattern, like the airplanes circling the control tower. When everything finally lines up [aka, you do the work to figure out why it left in the first place], you can land that baby.
And the work?
It’s about hunkering down and rumbling with some hard truths. It’s about asking, “What if?” instead of saying, “Oh, well.” It’s telling yourself, “I can do this,” even when you have no idea how.
That is your muchness. Now reach out and grab it. Hoist yourself out of that rut.
I believe in you.
January 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm
This is exactly what I’ve been feeling for the last four months, although I couldn’t have expressed it so well. I am still “face-down in the muck” … only I call it apathy. Not sure how or why it happened and I haven’t started crawling out. But I’ve started thinking about it, at least. Glad you’re digging out, Maisie – I’ve missed your voice.Reply
February 3, 2017 at 10:34 am
I listened to a podcast the other day I think you might like, Beth. >>> https://fizzle.co/sparkline/give-grows-overcome-burnout-fs200Reply
The most important line of the whole damn thing was this: “Figure out what grows in you. Then give what grows.” SO. GOOD.
Cheering for you, my friend.
July 10, 2020 at 9:00 am
And, 3 years later, I stumble across this much-needed read.
I hope you don’t mind me linking to this on my blog, which has languished a year or more without me.
July 10, 2020 at 10:31 am
Wow! This was wonderful! Sadly, I’m neck deep in the muck and have no immediate way out. There may well be a thing called ‘too late’. Age and apathy are real and dementia doesn’t go away (husband). There may be a way out, but I haven’t found it yet.Reply